Catchments have become wetter so follow-up falls will be more likely to create run-off and reach dams across the Murray Darling Basin. Odds for such rainfall have also improved for coming months.
Bureau of Meteorology charts show moisture level in the top 100 centimetres of soil improved sharply between last December and last month. NSW shows some of the biggest changes.
Still, Matthew Coulton, the bureau’s acting general manager for water, said “drought means something different to everyone you talk to … I don’t think it’s over for anyone yet”.
“It’s important to remember that long droughts can have periods of green. It was 36 months of very hot and dry weather that led to the conditions we saw at Christmas,” he said.
“It will take a lot more than two or three wet months to fill dams and get regional communities back on their feet.”
Little of the rain has reached the big dams on the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range. Burrendong Dam, which supplies much of the water for the Macquarie River, remains at 16.4 per cent full, while Keepit Dam on the Namoi is at just 13.7 per cent.
WaterNSW data shows catchment inflows of major rivers so far lag the most big flows in 2016-17.
Those dams and rivers, though, could be in for a relative wet winter and even into spring, as climatic conditions favouring above-average rains set in, according to the latest bureau outlook.
Waters in the Indian Ocean off north-western Western Australia are warmer than usual, a set-up that typically produces clouds that deliver moisture across Australia’s centre and south-east, said Andrew Watkins, head of the bureau’s long-range forecasting.
“If one of those north-west cloudbands interacts with a cold front or a cut-off low − that’s when we get some big rainfall totals over a large area,” Dr Watkins said.
With higher soil moisture levels and more cloud cover, overnight temperatures across most of Australia will also likely be milder than normal, he said. Days will be closer to average warmth.
“The drought’s broken when Burrendong is full,” said Mr Hall, adding the outlook for the Macquarie catchment is promising.
“Orange and Bathurst haven’t had much rain − you wouldn’t say it’s oozing water,” he said. Still, “it’s primed, it’s wet and ready to go”.
Peter Hannam writes on environment issues for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.